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My little sister was an escape artist. Once when she was three or four she disappeared during a family trip to Montgomery Wards. My parents were distraught after they tried to leave the store only to discover that our group of four was now a group of three. A few minutes later my sister was located, gleefully grinning as she pretended to steer the large riding lawn mower in the power tool section of the store. She hadn't the slightest clue as to how much her disappearance act had traumatized my mother.
I came to accept that this was just something my kid sister did for fun, so I took it upon myself to keep an eye on her. After all, it's your siblings who really know what kind of trouble you are capable of. A couple of years later she did it again at our local grocery store. We had made it through the check out and back to the car and that is when my mother realized we couldn't find my sister again. I ran back in the store to find her saw her walking away from the front door, hand in hand with a strange man. Immediately, I wanted to scream "Hey, that is my sister!" but I played it cool. I figured that there was a chance this stranger was actually helping my sister. However, this scene occurred in the 1980s amidst the rows of milk cartons with the photos of missing children which made me aware of the danger. To be safe, I ran toward her while making a plan on how I was going to get an employee to help me if the stranger meant harm.
As I got close, I yelled her name and both she and the strange man turned around. Thankfully for us, there was nothing but concern on his face as he turned to me, he had only planned to walk my sister to the store manager. That day, with streams running down her face, my sister first met the terror of her escape artistry. Overcome with boredom, as kids at grocery store often are, she had wandered off and when she realized she was alone, she began sobbing in the store.
It is easy to blame an incident like this on child's play except that this kind of escape artistry seems to be a specialty for the most mature adults, too. Meaninglessness, self-absorption, and pain leave many people with strong desires for immediate relief from their discomfort, so they hide. Some hide in illusions (even ones with noble intentions) others in substance abuse or through physical isolation. Escaping and hiding are choices of Individuals who have come to believe that their future only offers more pain.
As I have been working toward present awareness, strange echoes of the past like this story about my sister bounce in my mind from time to time. What I remember most from this incident isn't my sister's choice, but rather my instinctual need to run to find her while carrying feelings of anger that a stranger had my sister. Opening up in awareness has given me the space to feel the same way about those I encounter who are in the midst of suffering. If awareness is the goal of meditation then affectionate care is its outcome. When we stop to listen and see long enough, we will notice the modern escape artists who surround us. Life is difficult indeed, and those with unwelcome (but familiar) visits of fear, sadness, and despair often withdraw, become distant, or disappear altogether.
How do we help someone who is hiding? With the opposite of hiding, our affectionate presence. This takes the shape of listening, understanding, and the delivery of an open mind and heart. Like the grocery store incident, you can only be found by people who believe, with all of their heart, that you belong. Compassion in action requires that we run toward our lost brothers and sisters with a motivation that knows that the direction where they are headed toward is not where they belong. When someone belongs with you, it's natural to feel scared and sadness for them, but it's more important to remind them where home is - even if they just tried to leave it.
*Image courtesy of pixabay.com